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Tuesday, May 06, 2003

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Evolving a distinct learning process

THE FANATICAL acts of politicised secularism finds its befitting match in communalised Hinduism. The fanaticism of the so-called secularists' hidden agenda is in the propagation of the idea, that religion is the opium for mankind, was best reflected in making a frontal attack on the religious sentiment of Hindus through the inclusion of the fact that ancient Hindus ate beef, in history text books for children.

The fanfare with which the deletion of this fact was given effect is equally reflective of the fanaticism of another kind. The thunderous uproar of a section of renowned academicians against this deletion as an act of denial of a student's access to historical truth raises a very pertinent question — will it really stunt the distortion of history in the teaching of the subject to tender minds.

The issue assumed almost diabolical proportion in real-life when political propaganda was launched to describe Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, as a beef eater and he, in return, vehemently denying such an allegation. One may legitimately question whether the genesis of this propaganda rests on Mr. Vajpayee's much publicised culinary fondness for kebabs. It defies all logic as to why 10 or 11- year-old children of a country, which rightly claims to have assimilated, over the ages, the salient features of different religions and cultures, should suddenly become the target of not only academicians of distinct political complexion but also practising politicians of numerous ideologies.

The situation becomes murkier with judicial intervention. There is scope for reasonable doubt regarding the sagacity and wisdom of the Supreme Court in putting its stamp of approval on the controversial new textbooks of history, replete with factual errors and twists and turns of historical facts, manufactured by the NCERT. A comparative study of the basic tenets of all religions may have its own academic importance. But how far such abstract knowledge can really help in inculcating basic human values and thereby a truly secular outlook among school children remains questionable.

It is high time that education — at least school education — is left to professionally competent and liberal-minded educationists. Right-thinking Indian educationists should evolve means and ways of inculcating among students positive awareness and clear perception about the distinctive features of similarities and differences, in occidental and oriental thinking and way of life — of course, with the evolutionary socio-economic changes brought about by science and technology. Such an educational process alone can help each student discover his/her individual identity. A secular outlook is the inherent characteristic of all Indians, except possibly in those who are most vocal about it: the deliberate advocacy of secularism is suggestive of its absence.

In the past, the voice and words of `Vande Mataram' mingled with `Sare jahan se achha' to sweep the length and breadth of the country. People, irrespective of their regional, religious and caste affiliations, became one in the cauldron of Nationalism. The pride in our Indian identity today rests on the outstanding achievements of illustrious personalities drawn from diverse segments of Indian society — be it in the fields of music, art, literature, science, technology, sports, films, multimedia or industry.

When it comes to inculcating values in school children, the study of abstract ideas is most unlikely to lead to any tangible result. Far more effective will be children's exposure to stories and events not only of real characters from history and the present, but also from the world of myths, legends and even fiction. On the one hand, stories of characters in history such as Shivaji, Maharana Pratap, Siraj-Ud-Daullah, William Carey, Derozio and David Hare can ignite patriotic feelings and liberal thinking. On the other hand, stories of Vikramaditya, Akbar and Birbal, Solomon and Har-un-al Rashid of Baghdad, are likely to lay the foundation for a sense of right and execution of justice.

Instead of channelling intellectual and material resources to prove a myth or a legend as history, efforts should be made to exploit the educative elements of human values. Without transforming the heroes of their epics — The Iliad and the Odyssey — into Gods, the Greeks sought to emulate their virtues in real life, with due reverence to their Olympian Gods and Goddesses. We on the other hand, made Gods and Goddesses of the characters of our epics, particularly of the Ramayana, thereby distancing them from real life. There is more of the ritual of worshipping, than emulating their examples in day-to-day life.

George Bernard Shaw rightly stated, ``in a stupid nation, a man of genius becomes a God. Everybody worships him but nobody does his will''. Let the politicians have some pity for the hapless school students, who include their own children, and keep their hands off the sanctum sanctorum of the institution of democracy — education. We must learn from our experiences: the Left-front leaders in West Bengal tried their hand at it and one can see the mess they have created.

Bedasruti Das

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